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It's San Francisco in 1957, and an American masterpiece is put on trial. Howl, the film, recounts this dark moment using three interwoven threads: the tumultuous life events that led a young Allen Ginsberg to find his true voice as an artist, society's reaction (the obscenity trial), and animation that echoes the poem's surreal style. All three coalesce in hybrid that dramatizes the birth of a counterculture. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
"Howl" for Carl Salomon. I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night...
[continues reading but unheard, credits roll]
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Watched in June 2010 I've never read Howl or really have had much interest in Allen Ginsberg, but having seen this delight of a film, things have changed.
The film takes a look at several key moments in Ginsbergs life. In B&W we see Ginsberg recite his poem Howl: there are also insights into his friendships with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and his relationship with Peter Orlovsky. The reading of the poem is segmented throughout the film and in between these segments we see Ginsberg being interviewed, whilst we never see the interviewer, we do see Ginsberg talk about his life. The other main element is the trial of Howl, which was deemed obscene. All these aspects combine well and it never feels disjointed; they are nicely contrasted and offer great insights into the life of Ginsberg.
Add to this some wonderful animation that plays during much of the recital of Howl; it creates something of a reality to the poem and made it even more stunning and graphic and tragic and beautiful. The trial scenes are fascinating with the constant questioning by the prosecution as to what certain lines or words meant. And how wonderful the judge, who seemed to have made his decision well before the trial was over. Thank goodness for him.
James Franco plays Ginsberg and does so well, although he doesn't have too much to do, he is mostly either being interviewed or reciting; but it is in this he impresses, the passion, the intensity of the piece shines through: the ending of Howl, known as 'Footnote to Howl' is brilliantly spoken and I found it hugely emotional. The film has a slight doco feel to it at times, but it is otherwise an absorbing and wonderfully told account.
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